Random Meanderings About Using Word Processors in Entirely Unconventional Ways

The human mind has very little in common with the written paragraph. Getting your ideas out of your head onto paper requires filtering your thoughts, and then squeezing them out into linear sentences. Some people find this difficult to do, even when using a word processor.

Trouble is, people are accustomed to using word processors in a very standard, non-innovative manner. They start at the top of the screen, first thinking of a topic sentence, and then dredging their minds to find supporting details for their topic sentence.

But the human mind doesn't have topic sentences and supporting details all lined up on a rectangular grid in the brain. Far from it. The mind is a jumble of tangled ideas, swirling around randomly in a great seething caldron. The great wonder is that anything intelligible can ever emerge from such a caldron.

But wait. What if we could find a method of simulating the caldron right on your computer screen? What if we threw caution (and structure) to the wind, and allowed our unstructured thoughts to be dumped willy nilly onto the screen?

What we would get is an intermediate step between raw thoughts and polished sentences. Then, using the features of a word processor, we could rearrange, enhance, modify, and mold these raw thoughts into a finished form.

So how would anyone go about engaging in such boldly experimental activity ? Easy. Fire up your favorite word processor, and then carelessly follow these steps, in no particular order.

1. Write only what you care about. If you don't care about it, it's not worth writing about.

2. Start at the end, and write a crowd rousing conclusion. Then go back and think up appropriate material to support such a conclusion.

3. Make a list of ideas you'd like to talk about. Write the list sloppily on the screen, using sentence fragments and the worst imaginable grammar you can think of.

4. Start with one topic, and then go off on a tangent onto another topic. Go as far off topic as you feel like. Then if the second topic looks as if it has more substance than the first topic, delete whatever scribblings you had on the first topic.

5. If you know a foreign language, try writing in that language. The mere effort of writing in another language can arouse a deeper awareness of your own ideas. If possible, write the most grammatically incorrect sentences humanly possible. Mix different languages in the same sentence.

6. Ignore the even numbered suggestions above.

7. After inadvertently completing suggestion number 3, pretend as if you're a painter, and rearrange your list of raw sentence frags into new and bizarre arrangements. Stand back from the screen a few feet, and size up the look and texture of your emerging prose.

8. Switch off your word processor, and doodle with a pencil on the back of an envelope. Preferably the envelope should come out of your desk-side garbage can, and should be freshly trashed.

9. Assume the devil's advocate position on a topic you care about.

10. Be controversial. Take issue with this suggestion.

11. Assume for a moment that you're going to write down a sentence that the world will remember into the next century. Then do it.

12. Assume for a moment that many people will care about what you are going to write. Then believe it.

13. Ignore the odd numbered suggestions.

14. Think up an imaginative "what if" scenario. What if Shakespeare had a high speed laser printer by his desk, and had three full time assistants to dictate his plays to? What if Amadeus Mozart had a MIDI keyboard to record every keystroke he made in his life?

15. Think about the collected knowledge of civilization, and your part in adding to the whole.

16. Think about feelings.

17. Feel about thinkings.

18. Switch on the automatic centering option in your word processor. Your prose will then look like poetry, as each line you type will be perfectly centered. Then pretend as if you're writing deep thoughts, witty thoughts, remarkably concise thoughts. Then satirize the tone of the poetry they forced you to read in high school.

19. Stop whenever you're not having fun.

20. Stop at a point where you know you'd like to start up again.

21. Don't ever stop. See how that works for you. Isaac Asimov wrote over 350 books in his lifetime, much of it high caliber writing. Apparently the idea of not writing never occurred to him.

Phil Shapiro


Copyright 1995

(This essay may be freely redistributed and reprinted for any nonprofit educational purpose. Use by a for-profit company requires permission from the author.)

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